After writing the DVD Obscura column for years at Movies.com, TheWrap’s Film Reviews Editor Alonso Duralde brings it to its new home. In an age where niche and classic movies are harder and harder to find via traditional streaming services, it’s still worth maintaining a collection of physical media that can’t disappear from the internet (or even from your own online library). Each month, Duralde highlights new DVD, Blu-ray and 4K releases in six categories: Indie, Foreign, Documentary, Grindhouse, Classics and TV.
Both hilarious and heartbreaking, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment) may be one of the best films ever made about the plight of the writer — whether it’s the agony of having to be her own publicist or the realization that she’s most valued for her skill at mimicking the voices of other authors, Lee Israel (the extraordinary Melissa McCarthy) has a tough time of it, even when she starts making money by forging false letters from famous literary figures. Director Marielle Heller and screenwriters Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty find the joy and the heartbreak in the lives of both Lee and her rakish pal Jack (the similarly extraordinary Richard E. Grant), and it’s great to see queer characters get to be this complicated and messy in a mainstream movie.
Also available: It’s quite possible that you missed John C. Reilly giving two of last year’s best screen performances, so get caught up with “Stan & Ollie” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) and “The Sisters Brothers” (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment); Jason Mitchell plays the one black guy along for an all-bro weekend in the tense “Tyrel” (Magnolia Home Entertainment), from director Sebastián Silva (“Nasty Baby”); terminal teen Maisie Williams plays matchmaker for Asa Butterfield and Nina Dobrev in the rom-com “Then Came You” (Shout Studios); “The Standoff at Sparrow Creek” (RLJE Films) features a stellar cast of character actors — including James Badge Dale, Chris Mulkey and Brian Geraghty — in a cops vs. militia thriller.
Charlie Plummer (“Lean on Pete”) suspects his dad Dylan McDermott might be “The Clovehitch Killer” (IFC Midnight/Scream Factory); Chloë Grace-Moretz leads a talented ensemble in “The Miseducation of Cameron Post”: Special Edition (FilmRise), a drama about religious “ex-gay” camps directed by Desiree Akhavan; “Sgt. Will Gardner” (Cinedigm) stars Max Martini (who also wrote and directed) about an Iraq War vet seeking to mend his relationship with his estranged son.
New Foreign Films
On the one hand, it’s easy to see why “Happy Hour” (KimStim) didn’t have a major big-screen presence in the United States — a 317-minute Japanese movie about a group of thirtysomething female friends is nobody’s idea of a wide release. But that’s what makes home video so great: Not only do you have access to this exceptionally moving and empathetic film no matter where you live, but you can also enjoy all five hours of it in the comfort of your own home. Just reissued on Blu-ray, this 2015 film tells the story of women who share a friendship despite all coming from different backgrounds. The ample running time allows director and co-writer Ryûsuke Hamaguchi the breathing room to let scenes play out in real time, and his extraordinary ensemble of leads, who shared the Best Actress Prize at the Locarno Film Festival, make every moment count. There’s nothing indulgent or draggy about this gem; clear out an afternoon, and give yourself the time to take it all in.
Also available: “The Walking Dead” alum Steven Yeun gave one of 2018’s most chilling performances in Lee Chang-dong’s masterful “Burning” (Well Go USA Entertainment); “Down by Love” (Icarus Films) finds Adèle Exarchopoulos (“Blue Is the Warmest Color”) as a prisoner who gets involved in a steamy relationship with warden Guillaume Gallienne; Ruth Wilson (“The Affair”) stars in “Dark River” (FilmRise) as a woman who returns home after a long absence to claim her inheritance.
Vahid Jalilvand won Best Director at Venice for “No Date, No Signature” (Icarus Films), a psychological drama about class dynamics in contemporary Iran; IndiePix Films’ ongoing “Retro Afrika Collection” series offers three more films from the continent that have received little distribution in the U.S: “Rich Girl,” “Isiboshwa” and “Hostage”; the tempestuous romance “Out of Love” (Omnibus Entertainment) marks the feature debut of director Paloma Aguilera Valdebenito.
The producers of modern disaster classic “The Wave” aren’t done pummeling Norway – now they’re back with “The Quake” (Magnolia Home Entertainment); the director of “White Dog” returns with the supernatural thriller “Jupiter’s Moon” (Icarus Films), which premiered in competition at Cannes; “Ritual” (Omnibus Entertainment) is subtitled “A Psychomagic Story,” so perhaps it’s no surprise that there’s an Alejandro Jodorowsky cameo; the life of beloved Pippi Longstocking creator Astrid Lindgren is the basis for new biopic Becoming Astrid (Music Box Films).
With President Trump placing an ever-greater emphasis on what he sees on Fox News, it’s essential to understand the channel’s methods and its agenda, and one of the best places to start is Alexis Bloom’s “Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes” (Magnolia Home Entertainment), which tracks how the former Nixon aide developed a terrifyingly effective cable outlet. How did a producer for “The Mike Douglas Show” become a kingmaker? Bloom proficiently and chillingly connects the dots.
Also available: “The Last Resort” (Kino Lorber) captures the 1970s glory days of Miami’s South Beach as a bustling enclave of Jewish retirees; the complexities of the Universal Basic Income are explored in “Free Lunch Society” (Icarus Films); if you’re a sucker for cute dog videos online, “Life in the Doghouse” (FilmRise) will take you inside a long-running rescue shelter that has saved more than 10,000 of man’s best friends; rhythmic gymnast Margarita Mamun pushes herself “Over the Limit” (Film Movement) in this examination of the grueling nature of sports.
The Oscar-nominated “Of Fathers and Sons” (Kino Lorber) looks at two children being raised to follow their father’s path into radical jihadism; “Chef Flynn” (Kino Lorber) might be a teenager, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a talented and demanding culinary artist; find out what happened to Sam J. Jones between “Flash Gordon” and “Ted” in the tell-all doc “Life After Flash” (Cleopatra Entertainment); “Imaginary Feasts” + “Mina’s Recipe Book”: Two Films by Anne Georget (Icarus Films) examines the made-up cookbooks that prisoners in concentration camps and elsewhere would devise to psychologically stave off the horrors of starvation.
In the pre-streaming days, it was fairly standard for DVDs to brim over with bonus content, from outtakes to commentaries and interviews to behind-the-scenes footage and trailers. Nowadays, about the only places to find those kind of goodies are on Criterion Collection releases and horror or science-fiction titles, since that fan base has clearly demonstrated its interest in supplemental materials. So if you’re into “Kingdom of the Spiders” (Code Red), get ready for a Blu-ray that features a new HD master of the 1977 horror saga, which features William Shatner facing off with a horde of killer arachnids. Extras include a commentary track with director John “Bud” Cardos (“Outlaw of Gor”), producer Igo Kantor, and cult actress Tiffany Bolling, as well as a separate interview with Bolling and an original trailer.
Also available: Joy-riding teens get into an “Accident” (Well Go USA Entertainment) that makes them prey for a psycho killer; the extras-packed Blood Hunger: The Films of Jose Larraz (Arrow Video) compiles three films — “The Coming of Sin,” “Vampyres,” “Whirlpool” — from the 1970s Spanish genre master; “The Body Snatcher” (Scream Factory) offers a meeting of titans from both sides of the camera, with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi enjoying their final onscreen pairing for director Robert Wise and producer Val Lewton; a group of people living (and being filmed) in a “Real World”-esque house find themselves fighting for their lives in 1999’s “Kolobos” (Arrow Video).
Martial arts in a high school leads to a “Showdown” (MVD Rewind) in an action entry starring a pre-Tae Bo Billy Blanks; don’t get these confused: The Street Fighter Collection (Shout Factory) contains a trilogy of films starring 1970s karate icon Sonny Chiba, but Chiba also turns up in the Sister Street Fighter Collection (Arrow Video), a different trilogy starring one of the great female martial arts stars of the 1970s, Etsuko Shihomi.
Not sure what wasn’t already included in the outrageous theatrical version that had to be added to “The Greasy Strangler”: Special Director’s Edition (FilmRise), but fans of aggressively obnoxious filmmaking (and I mean that as a compliment) can find out for themselves; treasure hunters head to the Philippines only to face half-man, half-fish creatures in “Beyond Atlantis” (VCI Entertainment); the new Blu-ray of the Cold War-era giant-bug epic “The Deadly Mantis” (Scream Factory) includes the episode of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” that mocks it; in the history of lurid Italian-horror giallo titles, “Strip Nude for Your Killer” (Arrow Video) ranks among the most lurid.
Ally Sheedy tries to bring a genetically enhanced killer guard dog to heel in the ’90s thriller “Man’s Best Friend” (Scream Factory); Argentine cinema tips its hat to old-school Euro-sleaze in the festival hit “She Wolf” (Omnibus Entertainment); fans of grindhouse icon Albert Pyun won’t want to miss the director’s discussion of his string of sequels “Nemesis 2”/”Nemesis 3”/”Nemesis 4”: Triple Feature (MVD Rewind) on this new collection.
New Classic Films
Director Frank Tashlin famously graduated from Looney Tunes shorts to live-action features, and he found the closest thing to Bugs Bunny in human form in Jayne Mansfield, an often underrated actress often accused of being merely a Marilyn Monroe wannabe but who was in fact a gifted comic actress, one who understood the impact of her physicality and was willing to be in on the joke about it. (Chris Hemsworth summons a similar vibe in both “Ghostbusters” and “Thor: Ragnarok.”) Tashlin and Mansfield’s second collaboration, “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” (Twilight Time), is a big, bright, bouncy satire of Madison Avenue, celebrity, and television, starring Mansfield as a self-parodic screen siren and Tony Randall as a nebbishy ad man she turns into an international stud. It’s got wonderful wall-to-wall gags — including the best riff ever on the iconic 20th Century Fox opening fanfare — and a deliciously snappy supporting turn by Joan Blondell.
Also available: Randal Kleiser’s “Summer Lovers” (Kino Lorber), starring an impossibly young Peter Gallagher and Daryl Hannah, is silly, sexy escapism at its most sun-drenched; Jonathan Silverman channels Neil Simon in the playwright’s autobiographical “Brighton Beach Memoirs” (Shout Factory); while someone needs to make a miniseries out of Mary McCarthy’s novel to do justice to all the characters, 1966’s “The Group” (Kino Lorber) is nonetheless a chic and snappy soap about young women graduating college in the 1930s and then experiencing everything the 20th century has to offer; the late, great Stanley Donen had a great European period after his years directing musicals for MGM, and one of the highlights was the wild and mod “Bedazzled” (Twilight Time), starring and written by Dudley Moore and Peter Cook.
Maureen O’Hara stars in the 1940 remake of “A Bill of Divorcement” (Kino Lorber) — the original marked Katharine Hepburn’s screen debut — now available in a new 2K master; legendary, influential anime “Perfect Blue” (Shout/GKIDS), the debut feature from Satoshi Kon (“Paprika,” “Millennium Actress”), at last makes its North American Blu-ray debut; fans of “Nosferatu” and “Sunset” will get a taste of the early work of legendary filmmaker F.W. Murnau with the release of the double feature “The Haunted Castle” / “The Finances of the Grand Duke” (Kino Lorber); have Johnny Depp, Al Pacino or the mob itself been as good on the big screen since “Donnie Brasco” (Mill Creek Entertainment)?
Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s German TV miniseries became a marathon movie event for American art-house audiences, and now you can revel in all the glories of “Berlin Alexanderplatz” (The Criterion Collection) on beautiful Blu-ray; back when Brad Pitt and Juliette Lewis were Young Hollywood’s hottest couple, they teamed up to play possibly murderous drifters in “Kalifornia” (Shout Factory); Cliff Robertson won an Oscar for his star turn in “Charly” (Kino Lorber), although the film’s approach toward people with mental disabilities inspired an infamous gag in “Tropic Thunder”; “Talk Radio” (Twilight Time) is one of Oliver Stone’s more restrained films, but that doesn’t make his adaptation of Eric Bogosian’s stage play any less intense, particularly with Bogosian reprising the lead role.
Before “Carol,” director Todd Haynes showed himself to be exceedingly well versed in 1950s fashion and film language in the heartbreaking “Far From Heaven” (Kino Lorber); still casting a spell after all these years, “The Craft”: Collector’s Edition (Scream Factory) boasts a plethora of new interviews that will make this one a must for the movie’s devoted fans; groundbreaking indie “Wanda” (The Criterion Collection) gets a new 2K restoration and a Criterion disc loaded with information about this essential entry in American feminist filmmaking; I’ve always had a soft spot for “The Favor” (Kino Lorber), featuring a wickedly funny performance from Elizabeth McGovern long before she decamped to “Downton Abbey”; Ridley Scott’s thriller “Someone to Watch Over Me” (Shout Factory) still drips with style and intrigue.
Robert Zemeckis’ first feature — and for my money, still one of this best — “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” (The Criterion Collection) follows a squad of Beatles-obsessed teens who invade Manhattan in the hopes of catching up with the Fab Four when they’re in town for “The Ed Sullivan Show”; Renee Taylor and Joseph Bologna collaborated on the screenplay for “Lovers and Other Strangers” (Kino Lorber), a romantic farce with an all-star cast that includes then-newcomers Diane Keaton and Bonnie Bedelia; Sophie Marceau stars as “Marquise” (Film Movement Classics), a street dancer who seduces her way into 17th-century France’s most important theatrical stages; “Losin’ It” (Kino Lorber) might appear on the surface to be just another 1980s teen sex romp, but early work from Tom Cruise, Shelley Long and director Curtis Hanson bump it up a notch or two.
One of the highlights of the ambitious American Film Theatre series was John Frankenheimer’s exquisite adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh” (Kino Classics), with a powerhouse cast led by Lee Marvin, Fredric March, Robert Ryan and a young Jeff Bridges; a flop on its original release, comedy scholars have recently re-evaluated “Neighbors” (Mill Creek Entertainment), which cast John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd against type as, respectively, a buttoned-down suburbanite and his outrageous new neighbor; “Written on the Wind” stars Rock Hudson, Dorothy Malone and Robert Stack re-teamed with director Douglas Sirk for the angsty romance “The Tarnished Angels” (Kino Lorber); indie legend Charles Burnett got his first crack at a name cast and a relatively big budget in the haunting “To Sleep With Anger” (The Criterion Collection).
If, like me, you’re a sucker for vintage variety television, you’ll snap up two new releases from MPI Media Group. Pat Boone and Family: “Family Springtime Special” & “Family Easter Special” serves up a pair of shows from the first family of family values; it’s one thing to watch the King Family countering the counter-culture in the 1960s, but Pat and his smiling brood were pushing the same brand of wholesome spectacle way into the Jimmy Carter years. Nonetheless, they don’t make them like that anymore, or like “Perry Como’s Music Hall”: Special Edition, in which the cozy crooner shares his 1967 live-television stage with the likes of George Carlin, Carol Burnett, Flip Wilson and Bobbie Gentry.
Also available: “Lonesome Dove” (Mill Creek Entertainment) still ranks among the small screen’s most notable Westerns; Whovians get a full 17 hours of new bonus material with the “Doctor Who”: Tom Baker Complete Season Seven (BBC) collection; I was reminded of Astro Boy’s origins while watching “Alita: Battle Angel,” so if you’ve never seen the classic Japanese animated show, it’s “Astro Boy”: The Complete Series (Mill Creek Entertainment) to the rescue; and speaking of animated kids, “Craig of the Creek” (Cartoon Network) is the latest from “Steven Universe” writers Matt Burnett and Ben Levin.
The Betty White Collection (Mill Creek Entertainment) reminds us that the “Golden Girls” star has indeed been around since the dawn of television and knew how to get laughs even when the medium was in its infancy; the death of a beloved character makes “Fear the Walking Dead”: The Complete Fourth Season (Lionsgate Home Entertainment) more than I can bear to relive, but for fans, they’ve got commentary tracks on four episodes; while Hallmark Channel scrambles to edit Lori Loughlin out of their highly-rated drama, “When Calls the Heart: The Greatest Blessing” (Shout Factory) prominently features the scandal-plagued actress in the hit show’s Christmas special.
Acorn TV keeps the international hits coming with Swedish crime comedy “The Simple Heist” and Kiwi whodunnit “The Brokenwood Mysteries, Series 5”; decide for yourself if “House of Cards”: Season Six (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) goes out with a bang or a whimper; and “Krypton”: The Complete First Season (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment) shows that DC Comics shows don’t always have to dovetail into the CW formula.